With today’s post another short one, I thought I’d share a bit more about my Grandpa. When we last left him, he had just finished painting the trim on the two-flat’s peak and had invited the neighbors to come into the backyard to “see my tomatoes” …
(Those interested can read the painting story by clicking HERE.)
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Grandpa was well-known throughout our neighborhood and he could often be seen strolling about, his hands behind his back, with his right hand holding the index and middle fingers of his left hand. The little boy across the street took note and would often mimic Grandpa as they walked together or on opposite sides of the street. For Grandpa, this was the highest form of flattery.
He did more than just stroll about, however. If he heard the rumble of heavy equipment or the whir of power tools, he would be at the job site or backyard within minutes. Having once owned a contracting company, Grandpa knew and understood quite a bit about building and repair work. It wouldn’t be long before he’d be advising the worker(s) and oftentimes he’d pitch in, showing them how whatever it was should be done. His opinion was respected and very often sought out by our neighbors and the parish.
For example, the front of our church was a massive, floor-to-ceiling mosaic depicting a number of saints and religious symbols. As the church settled, a large crack began to appear in the center of the mosaic at its base, stretching upward like some leafless tree. Grandpa was called in to repair the crack and to replace the tiny colored tiles. Not long after that, following a lightning strike, Grandpa’s knowledge of masonry was required to help with the repairs to the school. As I said, Grandpa was well-known and respected.
Well, once the heavier garden work — the tilling, fertilizing, and planting — was done for the season and with no repair projects to tackle, Grandpa had time to relax. You could often find him sipping a beer while resting in his hammock under the grape arbor, listening to George Kell announce the play-by-play for the games of his beloved baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. Sometimes he watered the garden from the hammock, using a sprinkler to get those places beyond his reach. Eventually the game would end and that was cause for concern for some of the wives in the neighborhood, for Grandpa would go for a walk.
It didn’t matter who you were — neighbor, passer-by, parish priest, mail carrier, etc. — if Grandpa saw you, he would strike up a conversation and, at just the right moment, invite you to “see my tomatoes.” Within minutes, there you were, looking at his 2 dozen tomato plants, tied to their hockey sticks in neat little rows. He’d show you the brick barbecue, his very much prized Chinese pheasants, the lettuce patch, the grape vines, the potted lemon tree, and his latest attempt at growing a fig tree. Within minutes you’d be invited into the patio and he’d have a cold one in front of you before your rear end settled into your chair. What’s this? You don’t like beer? Not to worry. There was a jug of red wine under the table. Oh? You prefer white wine? There just so happened to be a jug of white wine next to the red. Well, that first beer or glass of wine led to another and another and then another. Somewhere along the line, shot glasses would appear and whiskey was introduced into the conversation. Although the length of these backyard tours varied, they usually ended in the same way, with his guest leaving the yard, though quite a bit more wobbly than when the tour first began. In fact, there were a few times when one of us kids was asked to walk his guest home.
These visits did not go unnoticed by the wives in the neighborhood and a few men refused Grandpa’s subsequent invitations. Others would accept but leave abruptly after the first beer. Of course, there were a couple who, for whatever reason, accepted the invitation with no apparent qualms at all. It was after one such visit that a neighbor approached Mom, angry because her husband had ignored her wishes and had returned home moments before, more wobbly than usual. I don’t recall whether she wanted Mom to control Grandpa, her husband, or both but Mom, recognizing a no win situation, did nothing of the kind, The husband, perhaps wisely, kept his distance and I don’t recall ever seeing him in the backyard again.
That’s too bad because he missed one of the greatest parties held in our yard. It was Grandpa’s birthday, though neither Zia nor I can remember the exact one. As was the case for each of his birthdays, all 13 of us ate dinner together in the patio, with a couple of family friends seated at the table as well. Once the dinner was finished, neighbors and friends joined the party just in time for cake and liquid refreshments. As I said, Grandpa was well-known and you never really knew who’d show up. This year, even the parish Pastor stopped by. The poor man didn’t stand a chance, for the wine, beer, and whiskey flowed freely. I’ve no idea how much time had transpired but I do know that my Dad was seated on our front porch as Grandpa walked the priest back to the rectory. (You may recall the rectory was located at the opposite end of our block.) Dad was still on the porch when the two returned a while later. Apparently, when they finally reached the rectory, the priest kindly offered to walk Grandpa home, he accepted, and so they returned. Realizing that this could go on for hours, Dad offered to walk the good priest home and sent Grandpa to bed. Oddly enough, although he was invited, our Pastor was a no-show at Grandpa’s next birthday party. That was OK, however, for another priest, a recent transfer from Wisconsin, unknowingly took his place …
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I first became aware of tomato jam last year through my blogging friend, Marie, when she posted a link to a recipe for tomato jam that used Sungold cherry tomatoes. When I mentioned it to Zia, she remembered that Grandma had made tomato jam when both she and Mom were little girls. The way I saw it, I had little choice but to make a batch, which I enjoyed very much.
This year, my tomato plants did much better than they have in recent years but the weather was far from cooperative. Though Summer started quite warmly, the sun and high temperatures soon departed, not to return until late August. Up until that time, my tomatoes grew but never got the sun and heat needed to ripen. Then, as September started, so did the ripening and soon I had more tomatoes than I could handle. That’s when I decided to revisit tomato jam, making two batches within days of each other.
Unlike last year, however, my tomatoes weren’t Sungolds. In the first batch, I used only heirloom plum tomatoes. In the second, I used an even mix of tiny cherry tomatoes and more heirloom plum tomatoes. Since my tomatoes weren’t as sweet as Sungolds, I referenced Mark Bittman’s recipe for tomato jam, as well as the one suggested by Marie.
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Tomato Jam Recipe
- 3.5 lbs (1590 g) tomatoes, cored, and roughly chopped (peeling optional)
- 2 1/3 cups sugar
- 3 green Thai chiles chopped, seeds and veins removed (see Notes)
- juice and zest of 2 limes
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
- 2 tsp cumin, ground
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 tsp cloves, ground
- 2 tsp salt
- Place sugar, chiles, and tomatoes in a thick bottomed, non-reactive pot. Stir and allow to sit for 1/2 hour.
- Using medium heat, add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil, before reducing to a simmer. Stir often to prevent scorching.
- Continue to simmer until the mixture resembles jam. This could take as little as 90 minutes or as long as 3 hours, maybe longer. If unsure whether your jam is ready, perform a plate test. (See Notes.)
- Once your tomatoes are jammin’, fill sterilized jars to 1/4 inch of the rim. Place the lid on each jar and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove from the boiling water, place on a towel lined baking sheet, and place them all in a draft-free area where they will remain undisturbed for at least 12 to 24 hours.
- Check to make sure each jar is properly sealed and store them in a cool, dark place. Those not sealed should be refrigerated and eaten within two weeks.
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When researching the amount of time required to process these jars in a hot water bath, I came across 3 different time requirements; 5, 10, and 15 minutes. Preferring to err on the side of caution, I processed my jam for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Although I peeled the tomatoes in the first batch, it was virtually impossible to peel the dozens of cherry tomatoes, so, I didn’t. I was surprised to find there was no detectable difference in texture between the two batches and I won’t be peeling tomatoes for jam in the future.
After cooking for an hour or so, I used a potato masher to crush any of the cherry tomatoes that remained whole. This released their liquid into the pot and, I believe, shortened the cooking process.
In the first batch, I used 3 green Thai chiles, removing both seeds and veins, thinking they would be too hot if used whole. Well, I could not detect them at all. In the second batch, I used one green Thai chile, leaving seeds and veins intact as I chopped it. It’s heat was barely detectable. I’ve yet to figure out what I’ll do next time but I’ve a feeling there’s one batch of very spicy tomato jam in my future.
There are a few ways to test whether your jam will set. I use the plate test. While your jam is boiling on your stove top, place a dish in your freezer. When you think your jam is ready, take about a half-teaspoon of jam and place it on the now chilled plate. Allow the jam to rest a few minutes before using another spoon or your fingertip to see if the jam has set or is still too runny. If the latter, continue to simmer the jam while returning the plate to the freezer to await the next test.
The cherry tomatoes that I used are an heirloom variety called “Mexican Midget”. One plant will produce a great deal of fruit, though smaller than “normal” cherry or grape tomatoes. The largest of these tomatoes are no bigger than my thumbnail, with many as small as the nail of my little finger. Up until I used them to make jam, I tossed a handful of them into each of my dinner salads — and still dozens remained on the plant.
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It’s déjà vu all over again …
Since this is a jammin’ post, we might as well be consistent. Today’s blast from the past is a recipe that I shared last year, Fig Preserves with Balsamic Vinegar and Black Pepper. Not only is this jam great when served with toast and, say, goat cheese, but it works beautifully when used to stuff a pork roast. WIth figs now filling our markets, this is one jam you won’t want to miss. Just click HERE for the details.
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Coming soon to a monitor near you …
Goat in the Moorish Style
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